Tuesday, November 16, 2010

a spell for chameleon

One of the most influential authors in my development was Piers Anthony, who managed to unite both incessant punning and richly imaginative fantasy into a stay-up-all-hours have-no-social-life spend-all-one's-pocket-money-on-paperbacks cocktail. A Spell for Chameleon featured a female character that changed with the moon, so that at one point she was incisively intelligent and painfully ugly, at another spellbindingly beautiful and dull beyond belief, and all the stages in between. It is perhaps unfortunately portentous that this was my favorite book as I navigated adolescence; these constant and severe changes still characterize my adult life.

I was thinking about this as I reread my journal of the past week. I could so easily see holes in my logic; an overruling pessimism blinding me to other interpretations. Yet when I wrote it, my feelings seemed to be the whole truth. Allow me to elaborate...

I made a fatal error this morning: I looked at the SouleMama blog. Now, although I possess the secret of the hyperlink, I am not going to utilize it here for fear of doing to you what I did to myself. This SouleMama, she is a mother of the highest order. She knits incredible sweaters of hand-spun wool for each of her FOUR children. She writes bestselling books. She makes violet jam and takes exploratory art walks with her offspring and they do morning chores together that include gathering eggs from their chickens and feeding the pigs. She is young and beautiful. She has a house filled with color, ritual, music, and handmade beauty. She is like a refreshing dip in lemon juice to my whip-slashed self-esteem.

Why do I do this to myself? I sat there counting off all the things she was doing that I had failed to do: 1) obtain a successful, loving, sane, and productive mate
2) live in new england, in a farm house no less
3) keep a beautiful, welcoming, and cozy home (of more than one room, even!)
4) channel her creativity into moneymaking and socially productive endeavors
5) prioritize the happy childhoods of her children over all else.
I admit it, I kinda wallowed. It was her brand new beautiful wood-fired stove that did it, see.

But then. After an incredible day with my vivacious, intelligent, adorable, funny, insightful offspring (Anainn can now say "Buddha" and "otter" and "more bubble water, mama"; Xir befriended both a duck and a human being at the park and had one of them eating out of his hand and the other teaching him chess by the end of the day. I'll let you sort out which was which), I raised my hand in psych class to answer a question about adult development and floored the professor when I mentioned my...uh...lack of car ownership. He drew me out over the break (not hard to do, I'm a Leo) and then made this announcement to the entire class:

"Folks, some of you have been complaining about the difficulty of the exam and all the reading you have to do. I want you to know that one of your fellow students is a single mom of two, does not own a car, works, lives far below poverty level and still managed to get an 'A'."

This was all it took to get me chatting up my fellow bus-riders, writing poetry, and irish-dancing in the streets all the way home.

I'm not repeating this to toot my own horn---well, okay, maybe a little--but to point out how quickly what seemed to be failures were turned into matter-of-fact circumstances that could be overcome. I was not a single poverty-stricken irresponsible mother of two--I was a SUCCESS who had OVERCOME those setbacks. Wow! What a difference! All in the emphasis!

So this is what I need to remember when I'm taking a swim on the dark side of the sea. It's all a matter of perspective. The moon will wax again and I will regain whatever intelligence or inner beauty or insight I thought, in the darkness, had gone forever. Nothing is ever just as we see it; there are all the other interpretations and ramifications that we can't see because of the limitations our present chameleon phase puts on our vision. And this, too: there are things we think we can control that we can't. Our self-esteem, other people's behavior, our children. But there are things we think we can't control that we can: our happiness, our optimism, our willingness to accept change.

New task: find the stressors in my life that I can control. Figure out how best to do that, and then follow the plan. Let the things I can't control be.

And call the plumber.